Many parents are asking this question as they look for better solutions to balance their own busy schedules with the needs of their children. The topic breaches an array of issues from legality to morality and for some, calls into question basic values about parenting. I’ll try to answer these questions where possible and shed light on some of the gray areas as well.
Both Uber and Lyft require all users of their App to be at least 18 years old. Uber’s terms of service explicitly state that anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult to ride. In addition, the driver can ask a passenger who looks too young for an ID and is instructed to cancel a trip if that turns out to be the case. Lyft takes a similar stance.
Uber and Lyft account holders who let unaccompanied minors ride risk losing their accounts.
Not playing by the rules about unaccompanied minors’ use of the Uber/Lyft Apps
The stated Uber and Lyft policies line up with their legal objectives which are to avoid stricter scrutiny and more complex background checks for their drivers. By limiting the use of their App to adults they can tamp down calls for tighter regulation. At the same time, there clearly seems to be a wink and a nod to both underage minors and their parents who continue to use the services.
In many cases, the teens and parents who violate the use policy are completely unaware they are doing anything wrong. Like most software and Apps today, agreeing to pages of legal text and lengthy terms of service requirements go unread and disappear with a simple click of a checkbox. Once this tacit agreement is complete the focus quickly shifts to simple instructions that promote ease of use for the best customer experience.
It seems obvious this is more a CYA process than an actual attempt to enforce a no unaccompanied minor policy. A true good faith effort would involve something like a minimum age verification question sequence as part of requesting every ride. That would at least cut down on the number of people unknowingly violating the policy.
Knowingly breaking the rules related to unaccompanied minors’ using the Uber/Lyft Apps
Many people are quick to judge others who send their kids to school with a Lyft or Uber driver. But how risky is it really? Is this just an elitist point of view? Fear of a new and evolving industry?
In most neighborhoods, you will see swarms of children walking themselves to school. Isn’t this risky? There is the danger of crossing a busy intersection with the possibility of being run over by a car. Even in quieter rural areas kids often walk a good distance to the nearest school bus stop. Clearly there are risks involving traffic as well as encountering potential bad actors along the way!
In more urban areas kids can be found riding on subways, trains, and city buses to get themselves to school. All of these modes of travel and transportation involve a certain amount of risk. They can come into contact with all kinds of people along the way. No doubt pedophiles and others willing to do harm to children know where schools are located and the pathways to get there. Is a paid (and trackable) transaction with a vetted Uber or Lyft driver a better or worse way to get your child to school?
I remember back to the first time my wife and I let our daughter walk to elementary school by herself. It was only about four blocks and probably wasn’t a big deal in our neighborhood.
I made a comment to my wife that if someone grabbed our daughter on the way to school in the morning we wouldn’t even know she was missing until she didn’t come home after school.
My daughter had a cell phone the very next day and either called or texted us immediately upon reaching the school every day! Some will say that is overreacting and others will think it is coming to terms with a wide-eyed view of the world we live in. All that matters is it was the right decision for my wife and me to make. Today my daughter is a junior in college and we have a whole new set of worries to think about!
It’s about safety…or is it?
There have indeed been cases where rideshare drivers have been charged and convicted of crimes against unaccompanied minors who were riding in their vehicle. This is an issue and I don’t plan to sugar coat it. The background checks of rideshare drivers are not as thorough perhaps as for school teachers or daycare center providers. But then again, there have been many more publicized cases of abuse and crimes against children in those venues then have happened during Uber and Lyft rides.
When abuse of a minor happens while taking an Uber or Lyft, it may well be deemed more severe and over-sensationalized because it is a new industry and breaks some traditional norms about parenting and parental responsibility. I don’t mean to downplay the severity of this criminal activity but rather shine a light on it and see it in the proper context.
Perhaps adding a driver certification or more intensive background checks would allow for some drivers to take unaccompanied minors. Then teens with their own accounts or parents who order rides for their kids could select (or be forced to select) a qualified Uber or Lyft driver for their child. This would be a good first step to a more global solution to this issue.
How do Uber/Lyft drivers feel about this issue?
First, it’s important to point out that drivers are individuals and independent contractors, so as would be expected, there are many points of view and little clear agreement.
Second, it’s hard to get drivers on record as they could potentially lose their driving privileges if they go on record as taking unaccompanied minors against Uber & Lyft’s Terms of Service.
With those disclaimers out of the way, I can safely report it’s a very hot and widely debated topic on private rideshare driver groups and forums! On top of that, both sides of the argument always make valid arguments.
The Pro unaccompanied minor points:
- Minors have car trouble late at night just like adults and need options.
- Minors drink and drive (not our kids of course) and should be able to use Uber/Lyft as designated drivers just like adults can.
- Teens have credit/debit cards, can open their own Uber/Lyft account by checking a little TOS box, and do other responsible activities on their own. Drivers are not their parents.
- Drivers do not know it’s a minor until they pull up to start the ride and are penalized for cancellations. They have used their gas and time to get to the pick-up location. Also, though it is deemphasized it affects a driver’s overall cancellation rate which is factored into whether or not they get future passengers over other available drivers.
The Con unaccompanied minor points:
- Some drivers take pride in complete allegiance to following the rules and both Uber & Lyft make it clear that unaccompanied minors are not allowed.
- It is unclear if the rideshare companies auto insurance will cover an accident if there is an unaccompanied minor in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Uber/Lyft do not clarify this issue but rather restate their policy that minors are not to use the App or service by themselves.
- Many drivers fear they could be falsely accused of mistreating an unaccompanied minor during a trip. Obviously this could easily turn into a costly legal battle even if they had dashcam video showing nothing happened.
- Some drivers don’t want children in their vehicles without parental supervision because they fear the kid could get unruly or even damage the interior of their vehicle. They can tell an adult to leave their vehicle at pretty much any time but kick a kid out short of their destination and all hell would probably break loose!
As I’ve shown throughout this article, there are many things to consider when it comes to unaccompanied minors using the Lyft/Uber services. Safety is first and foremost but the determination of risk and risk tolerance is wrapped into beliefs about parenting and ethical norms as well. There are currently policy statements from both Uber & Lyft that make it against the rules. At the same time, there is fairly clear evidence that those companies are more interested in their bottom line financial success than enforcement of those policies.
In the end, we have to look at what is happening. Unaccompanied minors are using the services on their own as well as with their parent’s approval. The technology is here and the market is demanding it serves their interests. I suspect the rideshare industry will find a way to meet that demand and I’m sure both Uber and Lyft will protect their market shares by being the companies to deliver.